About Lauren Ivory

Lauren Ivory is a hospital chaplain working on Chicago's diverse north side. After receiving her Master of Divinity degree at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, MO she went on for further hospital ministry training at the Cleveland Clinic of Ohio. On the side, she enjoys helping couples plan wedding/commitment ceremonies and works with couples as a certified premarital guidance counselor.

Race Relations

When I moved to Chicago about 2 1/2 years ago I was very excited; I couldn’t wait to sit down and figure out how to take advantage of being in Chicago. And as I began working at my new hospital I was excited to have such diversity in our staff and patients. I’d go in one room and talk with a Russian immigrant man, a Jamaican woman, or a Polish family.  Only in Chicago I’d say.

But then I encountered something I never expected-racism. Some of these delightful and interesting patients were actually racist towards other ‘minority’ groups. I was stunned silent the first few times, and concerned about how I was to minister to this person. How could I possibly entertain their statements? Plus, my job is about affirming and supporting people where they are.  On top of all of that, I felt insecure about pointing out racism when I, a Caucasian woman, had not experienced much racism (probably unlike the person I was talking to).

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I recently read a story in St Anthony Press about a group of young people called Focus.  The recent college graduates go back to universities and try to bring the Catholic faith to the students there.  This article applauded their work, and I’m sure there have been some great gains through their efforts, but I was totally disturbed. 

The decade between 16 and 26 years old is a critical time in life. Even one of the group members said,  “Young people are making life decisions and values are tested. They decide whether to reject or accept Catholicism”.   We sure do.  I do not deny the truth of that.  But while they see that as a perfect time to intervene, I’d be more careful.   I do not think people make a true embrace of Catholicism, or anything, at this stage without the possible negative influences of identity forming and conforming.  Their focus (no pun intended) seemed to be on getting kids in right relationship with the Church, not necessarily God.  And although we want to avoid an individualistic type of religiosity, group think isn’t a great way to go either (not that I think that Focus is doing that).   

I joined a charismatic Catholic teen group in my first year of college.  I was very taken up with it all, a little too much.  When I look at that time now as a professional minister I realize that the 9 months in that group had all of the tell tale signs of a late adolescent stage- when we are furtively trying to find, form and express our identity.  What normally sticks out then are identities of a unique or unusual fashion.  We are prone to conformity and still attracted to black and white thinking, especially as we encounter big changes in our world views.  We want to belong, be cool, be included, we want acceptance but acceptance from others is a poor substitute for the self acceptance we really crave. We go to the parades, walks, protests, lectures, etc. especially in the beginning, often for our own sense of self. 

In this stage we are libel to cling to many things/people for identity, not because we are embracing this or that, but for the secure feelings it gives us.  This stage of  identity forming is a dangerous place to wield so much influence.  I remember my mom getting upset once when we came home from CCD with ‘little feet’ pins (representing anti-abortion) that our teacher sold us.  When my mom asked what the pin was for, we didn’t know; we just thought the feet were cute.  My mom questioned our teacher about it and the teacher said something to the affect of, ‘Well, this is when we have to get them, when they’re young and we can mold them without them even knowing it’.  My mom told her that was akin to brainwashing and unacceptable.   And I agree with her point-she said it was unfair to lure kids into something they don’t understand.  

College students are not children but it is so important to remember the capacity for persuasion, for good and bad, at this time.  I would be uncomfortable having so much influence without some good theological training too.  I’ve not read any other articles or information on this group but I do think from what was said in it that they mistakenly think people are open and hungry for God when they may be soley open and hungry for identity. If I were in this group, I wouldn’t want anyone to ‘come to truth’ without truly wanting to and being of clear mind to do so. It wouldn’t seem authentic any other way.

Advocate, heal thyself

To become a hospital chaplain most people engage in what is called Clinical Pastoral Education.  The program is aimed at helping  interns discover who they are and what they believe so they can see how it impacts the work they do.  And although we are not encouraged to become personality-less, we examine our reactions and the avenues we choose to take (or flee from!) in any given situation.  Its self awareness at its best-not just for one’s own gratification, but to put to use for others as well.  

This can also be terribly annoying too, always analyzing things to death (or others), looking for the deeper meaning in things, or the subconscious motivations when sometimes there might not be anything to see.  But because I’ve experienced the overflowing grace self awareness can be, I jump back into the deep end to take a look. 

Even when I am engaged in some issue that seems totally unrelated to my circumstances, the passion I feel for someone or something can be undeniable.  For instance, a white ally in anti racism, a man concerned about women receiving lower pay for equal work, and so on.  I think this is because we have an inner drive to connect and relate with each other; and we know in doing so we often learn more about ourselves.  Those who fight for people on the margins are fighting for themselves sometimes-fighting for themselves to be accepted just like those they advocate for, fighting for people to be treated like we wish we had been (or how we wish we would be treated if we are ever in their shoes).  Consequently, when we treat people poorly, are we treating them like we think we deserve to be treated? Do we want them to feel as we do?

Even so I celebrate the magical nature of and capacity for healing that relationships embody.  Through someone’s triumph we hope to tap into our own skills for doing the same.  We are drawn to them because we seek healing too-the loss of idealism, our own unique experiences of suffering, or the loss we feel not having a spirit of survival. This quote, normally attributed to Lilla Watson, has never made more sense to me: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us walk together”.  

To truly be the best advocate I can be and be as objective as possible (so I can help in the ways they would like, not how I would like to help), I’ve got to tap into my inner self.   I’ve got to guard against over-identifying too though.  We’ve all probably heard from time to time, “I know exactly how you feel” and bristled because 1) we can’t really know exactly how it felt and 2) we begin to make the conversation about us. 

To unlock the magic of relationships, BE in relationship with those you are concerned about.  Share your own story when appropriate and discover what touches you so about the person or situation.  It will make it even more meaningful for all involved but it will also complete the circle of relationship Jesus modeled for us. I remain ever grateful for the opportunity and the trust extended to us; after all, we’re dealing God’s most precious creations.

Making Lemonade

While most people I interact with are excited about Obama’s win last Tuesday, I certainly have heard from some that are not.  But I’m a firm believer in the Pollyanna way, that there is good to be seen even in bad situations. We only have to look hard enough and open our hearts and minds to seeing the positive.  As a hospital chaplain you can probably guess that I don’t advocate ignoring reality and living in la la land just because you don’t want to think about negative things.  However, at least in this election, there is much to celebrate regardless of affiliation, regardless of disappointments you may have. 

People saw candidates this year that represented them and their interests, because of things like their race, state/origin (go Alaska!), gender, service to the military or local community efforts.  People took stock of their values, reflected upon them, and made their voice be heard!  Indeed, they finally knew their voices could be heard.   

Early on in the campaign I was on a bus and beamed with joy at seeing a near 90 year old woman with a Hilary button on her sweet homemade knit hat.  I didn’t beam with joy because Hilary was my candidate of choice; I beamed because she held her head so high.  I imagined that she was feeling a new wave of dignity having a female candidate in the race (purely speculation of course).  I imagined she may even be voting for the first time like an 84 year old woman I saw on the news one day who finally registered to vote when she heard about Hilary’s bid for the Democratic nomination. 

Then another woman, my dear grandma, had quite a new experience this election as well. As the wife of a man whose family had been pretty involved in politics (as supporters, not candidates), she had voted one way her whole adult life. But this year she changed her mind and marched down to city hall for the sole purpose of changing her party affiliation, something she didn’t even have to do to vote as she pleased.  She even contributed financially to a campaign in her own name for the first time-and did so three different times at that!  I revel in my grandma’s freedom to change when everyone says that the elderly are stuck in their ways; she never bought into that, not now and not when she was young. I celebrate her making a personal, autonomous choice and valuing her own opinions. Not that she didn’t before (she’s no shrinking violet, trust me), but this year she was so excited that it seemed different somehow.   

This same grandma told me about an amazing discussion she had with one of her bridge partners after Tuesday’s election.  Her friend who is African American said, with tears streaming down her face, that for the first time in her life she finally felt like she wasn’t a second class citizen.  I had to repeat that in my head to see if I hat gotten that right–I had, and with that, it was my turn to cry.  I remembered the tear streaked faces I saw on the TV that night and how moved I was that they were so moved. 

How Obama kept from crying I’ll never know!  Let me ask you though, when have you ever seen people cry over an election?  Sure, Chelsea Clinton cried when her dad was elected, but we’re talking about thousands if not millions of people.  When did you last hear something so beautiful as a person who finally did not feel like a second class citizen? 

Of course, you must take this with a grain of Pollyanna sized salt, but have you ever been so touched?

No. One Fan

I had the chance to go to a really fun concert this weekend and one of the performers said something that got me wondering about whether or not God experiences gratefulness.  Who, pray-tell, was the lyrical genius who made such an eloquent statement that I began to reflect on God in the middle of a packed stadium?  It was Donnie from New Kids on the Block.  I’ll pause while you laugh….

All done?  ha ha!  Well, I don’t know that it was so much that he is a lyrical genius or said something terribly eloquent, but thought provoking (for me at least) it was.  He said that so many fans have been thanking them for reuniting so we can relive our giddy teenage years and see them perform again.  And like any gracious person would do, he said no, that he wanted to thank the fans for such a warm welcome and the opportunity to perform again.  To which Joey, my fave NKOTB member, said that there is nothing like hearing your songs on the radio or seeing people enjoy what you’ve worked so hard on.  And he said that he wouldn’t be a singer without an audience.  Sort of in that philosophical sense of the audience being an essential part of him being who he is (as a performer).  As Rebecca St James stated in her song, Without You, “Like a king without a country, that’s me without you, it ain’t never gonna feel right”.  Even in my job, I feel complete because of it, but wouldnt’ have that feeling without patients to minister to right? Tom Cruise made big bucks from that phrase, “you complete me”, but could that be applied to God?

I frequently imagine and name God as Creator and find a lot of meaning in the belief that we know much about God because of God’s creations here on earth, just as I would know much about an artist (creator) by seeing their creation.  And I feel closer to God because of God’s creation.  I am sure God would be God without us, but would God be Father, would God be Creator?  And so do we complete God?  Well, that probably is where I lean into the land of heresy because in my head this recording goes off: God is perfect and anything less than complete would be imperfect so that can’t be.  But it still makes me wonder.  God delights in us, that is for sure.  Is there more?  Does God need us?  Do we fulfill God somehow, like a child fulfills someone meant to be a parent?  Just because I have that recording in my brain, no doubt due to drilled in teachings from my education, it doesn’t seem to answer the question for me.  That’s the problem sometimes (at least for me)-the rational reasons or logic puzzles don’t always give me fulfilling reasons or answers.  I imagine that’s because we’re more than just head, we were created as much more.  Thank God, even if it does cause confusion!

No Smoking Allowed

After spending a little vacation time with my family I was reminded about what its been like to be a non smoker in a smoking family.  I try to make it clear to all of my family that I don’t judge their decision to smoke, but that I need some consideration from them as the non smoker.  For instance, I asked them to open a window when more than one of them smoked in the car because I would get a bit overwhelmed from the smoke.  And two, I asked that they wouldn’t smoke in the room I sleep in when I’m there because I normally wake up congested and get a cold because I’m just not used to it.  One of my sisters quit for awhile and was surprised when she started feeling bad when around smoke. I used to get some resistence, making me wonder if they thought I was overreacting, but in the past few years, things have been much better. 

Here in Chicago a law was passed at the beginning of the year making all public places, like bars and restaurants, smoke free.  Although I enjoy it for myself and find myself more interested in going dancing on the weekend knowing I won’t wake up with a sore throat and smelly hair, I know that smokers are judged pretty harshly.  I think people forget that we all have our issues and excesses, and all have things that bother other people.  We don’t appreciate how hard it is to quit!  But I’m very inspired by people who are able to overcome it and often tell my patients that when they share their story.  They are usually surprised because I think in part they aren’t used to getting any sympathy much less commendation for their hard efforts.  All sympathy goes out the window for someone who suffers an illness because of smoking. 

I read an article by a woman whose father died of lung cancer (Elizabeth Egan, Self magazine http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24844538/) and one of the first things the she pointed out was how virtually everyone she told about her dad right away asked if he was a smoker.  She admitted that she probably would have asked the same thing before her dad’s illness but also said,  

     “Now that I’ve been on the receiving end of it, though, I think responding this way to news of a cancer death is misguided — and slightly rude.  Do we ask if a victim of a car accident was a good driver?….. [Its as though people think] smokers deserve to die, alcoholics deserve to die, overweight people deserve to die and should not be mourned or felt sorry for.” 

Even in health care we use diagnoses like non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver so they can avoid stigmas and especially so their insurance won’t deny their claims! I also read some of the comments to the article mentioned above and was shocked at the judgement and plain cruelty! Its as though people think, pardon me, that their shit don’t stink.  Just because their issues aren’t caused by something they ‘ingest’ doesn’t mean they don’t have problems (thin people can have bad cholesterol and workaholics or people with negative attitudes can develop autoimmune issues).  

I think it comes down to fear and dealing with that fear in an unfortunate, but instinctual way.  Cancer is very scary.  It is destructive and indiscriminate; we hardly know how to control it and feeling out of control is not fun.  I see this in the hospital too when children die.  The parents, at a time when they should just be getting total support and love, are peppered with questions about whether they did everything right to prevent mysterious things like SIDS.  People ask questions of them to ease their fears that they might befall the same fate.  I pray they don’t but I think we can be better than this, I think we can show more compassion and understanding.  After all, that is pretty instinctual too.      

Healing Nature

A good amount of the fortune novelty companies have made from dolphin kitsch must have come from my family and friends who helped me amass quite a collection of dolphin items.  Everything from save the dolphins necklaces to dolphin bottle openers and Christmas lights.  And my love for dolphins is just the beginning of my interest in marine animals; I feel a mystical connection with them.  When I saw sea lions in San Francisco not even their smell or loud barking could tear me away from watching them glide in and out of the water and flop under and over each other.  I got to see killer whales at a Sea World, and was mesmerized by their size, power and grace.  And then just last month I got to see beluga whales.  They’re sort of like over-sized, lumpy dolphins with that same smiling face and joyful (I imagine) disposition.  My friend thought she was going to have to hold me back from jumping into the tank with them. 

One year while I was in a pretty bad state, I went to visit my grandparents in Florida (a.k.a. dolphin kitsch heaven) and was overjoyed when some dolphins came to swim alongside the fishing boat I was in because they enjoy swimming in the wake of boats.  Later that night I read in the God Calling daily reflection book, “Look at the joy God’s creatures have in just being.  Look to them and find peace”.   

In all my youthful ignorance, although I did read a little bit about the horrors befalling marine life because of poachers and boaters, I didn’t really know the harsh realities.  I just knew cute things should not be killed and I said so very convincingly in my 7th grade persuasive speech.  Soon I began to learn about how they are captured and the poor living conditions they have at the very amusement parks that had made my admiration for them swell.  Many parks now, however, are only housing rescued animals, those who needed medical attention (normally because of human error-pollution, boating too close, getting caught in fishing nets, etc.) and cannot be returned to the wild (although they are working on it).

I don’t know why I share all of this romanticism about animals with you except to say this:  These animals speak to me about God, about God our Creator who made this world so abundant.  They speak to me about a God who made each creature so unique and ultimately vital to our ecosystem that I think we need to protect them, unfortunately from the likes of us.  My privilege however is that while others have suffered from floods, animal attacks, and hurricanes, I have had a peaceful existence with nature.  So, that may make it easier for me to find such joy and connection with God in creation but I think the cause continues to be vitally important.  Even if it ‘doesn’t do it for you’, I think we should remember that it does for others and is worthy therefore of our support for the sake of others’ connection with God.  This is not unlike the Latin mass conversation that we had here in the past few weeks and even though I am cautious because I don’t know what it will bring, I don’t like the exclusive language in it, etc., I want to support it for others who love it.  Maybe they haven’t had the same experiences I have and can still enjoy the ancient feel of the Latin mass just as I can still joy in the beauty of nature.